It is estimated that 2.5 billion people do not have access to safe, private, or hygienic toilets. And that 1.1 billion of those people do not have access to a toilet at all.*
Jasmine Burton was just a freshman at Georgia Tech when she learned of these harrowing statistics at a leadership conference. She was so heartbroken over these facts that she decided to do something about it.
An industrial design major from Dunwoody, Jasmine began researching the sanitation and water issues that contribute to this global problem. She talked to experts in these fields and came up with the idea of a functional, economical and culturally sensitive toilet that could be put in areas of the world where they don’t exist. That summer, she interned with World Water Relief, where she further learned about what it really takes to implement a water, sanitation, and hygiene related project in the developing world.
Jasmine’s active interest in public health and sanitation continued to grow during her years at Tech, and during the summer of 2013, she participated in the Summer Public Health Scholars Program (SPHSC) through the CDC and Columbia University. Through coursework and conversation, she discovered that her interests were broader than just water sanitation and extended to human rights and social justice.
That fall, Jasmine came back to school and put together a team of other Georgia Tech students—Becky Byler, Erin Cobb, and Brandie Banner—to work on creating this functional toilet for their interdisciplinary design capstone. They named their product SafiChoo (which means “clean toilet” in Swahili) and in December, the all-female team was encouraged to submit their prototype for Georgia Tech’s annual Inventure Prize competition. They were initially skeptical that their product wasn’t right for the competition, but after being given a golden ticket to the semi-final round, they reconsidered. On March 27, 2014, the SafiChoo toilet won first place in the competition, and the girls received $25,000 and a U.S. patent for the toilet.
And so began a whirlwind of celebrating, traveling and improving their product in preparation for piloting it overseas. The team worked closely with the Georgia Tech College of Architecture and the Georgia Center of Innovation for Manufacturing to find the right materials and process for developing a more efficient, sustainable prototype toilet.
Just three weeks after the competition, the team was ready to debut approximately 20 of these toilets to Sanivation, their sponsoring and mentoring organization based in Naivasha, Kenya just outside Nairobi. They then traveled to the Kakuma refugee camp with Sanivation and worked with them in implementing their pilot. The group collectively spent a about 10 weeks in Kenya, making relationships and learning more about sanitation and solutions in the area. The locals were very receptive of the SafiChoo toilet, and their candid feedback helped the team determine what changes needed to be made before mass production could begin.
This fall, Jasmine is the only original member of the team to continue with the project, and has since been joined by several new team members including Katie Isaf and Sarah Lashinsky, both Georgia Tech alumna. The SafiChoo toilet has since undergone iterations for figuring out rapid-prototyping and has also rebranded. Today, the initial toilet model is called SafiChoo, while the overarching company (founded by Jasmine) is called Wish for WASH, LLC. She named it this because universal access to sanitation has been her wish for global WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene). Even though nine in ten startups aren’t ultimately successful, the Wish for WASH team can’t be swayed and is determined to take these toilets to more and more regions of the world.
Now connected to the Center of Innovation for Manufacturing, the team looks to improve the design for manufacturability so they can efficiently process future orders. Looking ahead, the team hopes to figure out a way to manufacture these toilets near the areas that will use them, bringing employment, sustainability, and efficiency to the project.
Jasmine’s goal was to normalize the conversation about toilets and create one that would be functional, ergonomic and sustainable. The SafiChoo toilet, and now her Wish for WASH team, has done that and continues to learn the process for manufacturing and overcoming obstacles as they arise every day. It is these obstacles that make creating a social impact startup exciting as they ultimately seek to improve the world one toilet at a time. For more information visit www.wishforwash.com.
To learn more about the Center of Innovation for Manufacturing, click over to Manufacturing.GeorgiaInnovation.org.
*According to a study done by the UN.